SMALL BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE. Scott Hannan Hannan Partners Pty Ltd

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1 SMALL BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE Scott Hannan Hannan Partners Pty Ltd Paper presented at the conference Crime Against Business, convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology, held in Melbourne June 1998

2 I was a small business operator in Canberra. My business interests have included two Subway Sandwich Franchises and a small computer consulting firm and I have employed up to twenty people at a time. A condition of purchasing a Subway Franchise is that a purchaser is required to spend a number of weeks in the USA undertaking training. The training was both theoretical (at the headquarters) and practical (working in Subway stores in the USA). As you can imagine, a world-wide franchise has in place extensive procedures and controls which have been developed over many years and through the experience of thousands of stores world-wide. As a result of this experience in the USA and through my subsequent experience of running the store, I became interested in both methods of theft prevention and the reasons why, or situations where, employees are tempted to steal. There appears to be limited material available to help a small business owner meet this problem. Along with Australian Business Limited, and my long-suffering father (as he calls himself), I developed a 40 page manual with a view to raising the awareness of employers of the extent of the problem. Hopefully it will make it easier for employers to safeguard their workplace by identifying areas of their business that are potentially vulnerable to employee malpractice. The Australian Securities Commission recently conducted a survey of small to medium business enterprises and found that most of them have inadequate risk management strategies. The research, whilst not conducted on loss through theft, had many parallels to my findings on why theft in the workplace is so widespread. The Australian Securities Commission survey found that SME s relied heavily on their accountant and were reluctant to seek any other professional advice. The accountant is seen as the guru on all aspects of business. They also tend to rely on information from business associates and those working in similar fields. The main problem here seemed to be a combination of ignorance and lack of information. Obviously SME s do not take this approach because they want to get themselves into trouble. I guess many owners would respond by saying that they do not have the time or energy to devote to this matter. 1. No time to read text After questioning many business owners who have purchased my report on employee theft it became clear why the problem continues to be widespread. Around 80% of those surveyed had not yet even looked at the report. They had all experienced theft ranging from loss of cash to merchandise and information, and felt a need for some sort of strategy. Unfortunately, purchasing the report was as far as they got. I must say that I am amazed that an employer would part with around $50 to learn more about the possibility of theft in their business and then put the book on a shelf. Perhaps the only explanation is that the employer now feels better prepared in the event of a theft and that it gives an added sense of security. 2. They use the manual for reference only Those who have looked at the manual report that they are using it primarily as a reference when they have a particular problem. Rather than reacting to problems when they arise, employers should obviously be anticipating them and implementing the necessary strategies. Unfortunately, a manual on combating theft will have little effect if it is only used when somebody actually steals. Where the potential for theft is high, a business owner should give the matter the same priority they give to marketing and other strategies for increasing profit. 2

3 3. Should be preventative but it is being used in reaction to theft In considering the possibility of employee theft, we have to consider other, maybe less obvious aspects of the organisation of a business. For example, I would suggest that the level of remuneration and an employee s overall level of job satisfaction can influence an employee s attitude to honesty. Where there is a marked level of dissatisfaction in these areas, a business will probably be more likely to suffer loss. Assessing the overall fairness of a workplace is required to pinpoint in the business owners mind any areas that may leave employees disgruntled. 4. Valuing an Employee Today with so much work being on a part-time/casual and contract basis, employees can feel very insecure. The tenuous nature of employment can generate feelings of resentment and distrust. In such a climate it is difficult to generate loyalty on the part of staff. In too many cases they are seen as a necessary evil rather than as people who could develop an enthusiasm for the business and become and invaluable asset to the business. Making an employee feel valued can do wonders for their attitude. This could be done by way of personal affirmation and financial reward, which are of course, motivated by self-interest. Ideally, an employee should also be valued for their own person and the unique contribution they bring as a partner to the business. Developing programs that are built around fair compensation, pleasant surroundings, and employer-sponsored activities or benefits can improve morale and concern for success of the business on behalf of the employee. Obviously the dynamics of a business employing a small number of staff are different from those of a larger organisation. The relationships between the employer and staff are necessarily more personal, and trust is more likely to be built up in this situation. This presents a challenge - to find a balance between giving trust and more responsibility to an employee and at the same time, maintaining vigilance and not becoming complacent. A small team of employees can be extremely efficient and often in small business there is not the time or opportunity for the supervision and checking that should ideally be done. It would be very nice if we could leave these people alone to carry out their duties, but as we know trust can be abused. It is expecting too much of some employees to leave the running of the business largely to them and employers must help themselves in this regard. Experience has shown that in the case of a small business, the owner must take an active interest in running the business, no matter how reliable and trustworthy employees appear. If this is not done an employer is exposing the business to being taken advantage of. This situation is not unlike failing to take out insurance for their business. The value and type of merchandise carried is also obviously a factor in the extent of any controls. 5. Lack of control Many employers who were interviewed had no existing controls or procedures to minimise the risk of theft in place. One of the attractions and strengths of established franchises is the near foolproof controls they have developed to minimise theft of money and stock. As I said earlier I opened a Subway Franchise in Canberra. Subway have developed a cash register which also functions as a check on the overall operations of the business. Every hour of every day you take a print out from the register and this tape provides a breakdown of stock sold and money taken which is then entered on control sheets. The control sheet helps to identify any unusual activity, including possible loss of income or stock. It has been developed over twenty years, 3

4 and is in large part the result of experience of such a large number of stores. Counting everything is the basis of the system. Cash is zeroed off by every person on every shift, stock is regularly counted and discrepancies are addressed immediately. Whilst the counting sounds like a lot of work, once computerised, it requires a little weekly updating and can tell the employer at a glance whether or not anything is amiss. This allows the business owner to monitor operations with minimum effort. It is my belief that the success of the franchising system is partly due to these time-proven controls and procedures. Of course, this system works well in a fast food restaurant. The types of control would obviously be different in a business where individual items of stock are valued at hundreds of dollars. 6. Ignorance to methods used Many employers are surprised when they read of the many and varied ways that theft can occur. Employees are in a unique position to become aware over time of opportunities and weaknesses to exploit in their workplace. The employer is at a disadvantage here because theirs is a different perspective to that of the employee. So employers have to get smart and learn from each other and from their various experiences. Employer organisations are in a position to sponsor an event where employers could come together and share their varied experiences and compare methods employed to reduce the incidence of theft This type of information sharing could allow individual employer organisations to create a database of employee related crime that other members could access. As many thefts are of a similar nature, I think this could go a long way toward minimising the future incidence. Whilst many employers claim they know exactly what takes place in their business, I am hesitant to agree with them without reviewing their controls. One particular employee I was aware of, worked casually in three different jobs. The first was a bar, where the person would frequently give away alcohol as well as fail to ring up sales. The second job was at a major card and stationery franchise, where the person would turn off the register half an hour before closing and pocket the sales revenue received over the half-hour. The third job, at a major fast food chain, suffered at the employees hands as the employee would frequently remove alcohol from the premises with the garbage, steal cash whenever the system was down and quite comfortably cover their tracks by writing things off as mistakes. All of these thefts occurred in workplaces which are generally considered to be well controlled and occurred right under the nose of management. This particular employee came to my attention not as a deadbeat looking to rip people off, but as a comfortable, popular, person who had been granted both the opportunity and the access necessary for any theft. The interesting observation was that it appeared the easier it was to get away with these thefts, the less guilt the employee felt about the thefts themselves. 7. Need for better stats to gain more of a perspective on theft within SME s A fundamental problem in talking about this subject is that there is a lack of information on the extent of the problem in business across Australia. Employee theft is rarely reported and this vacuum of information and awareness can lead to a sense of complacency. Consequently, it is difficult to assess the extent of this problem in our community. It is my view that current policing procedures do not encourage small business to report theft or fraud. Police may not investigate fraud until the amount of money involved is quite substantial. The cost of insurance, and particularly the excess costs, make insurance an unattractive proposition, once again putting the onus on the employer to deal with the matter in-house. In 1996, The Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded around incidents of theft within businesses. 4

5 These figures include shoplifting and the like and it is very difficult to sift out the in-house theft problems from these numbers. These statistics do not carry a dollar value in Australia however, US studies have shown that employee theft there can have as much as 12 per cent impact on retail prices, an overall guesstimate of around 40 billion dollars annually. Discovering why this type of theft is not often reported is the goal of many researchers. The Bureau of Statistics is looking for new ways to gather this data and I will let Stuart Moore tell you about that in the morning. I have received quite a bit of feedback from various employers throughout NSW on my manual. The feedback has been very encouraging and has only increased my belief that more education is vital. For one rather large business, the content of the manual was just what they were looking for. The employer remarked that the suggestions made in the report were driven by common sense and the impact was not intimidating but it did work over a very busy period for the store. My father informs me that back in the fifties, a common saying was every man has his price. In other words, an otherwise honest person could be very strongly tempted to act dishonestly if the amount involved was substantial enough and a favourable opportunity presented itself. Ultimately, through effective controls, it is up to the employer to reduce the opportunity for theft to occur. From my after market research, the question could be asked: What can you do to help employers? As the evidence is that they tend not to be pro-active when dealing with the possibility of theft, there must be a way to get the message across - Hey, this will save you money, perhaps save YOUR business and ultimately benefit the community as a whole. 5

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